Into Un-Flickchart-ed Waters: Halloween Alien Invasion Edition

For someone who has the second highest quantity of total films seen on Flickchart and spends an undue amount of time ranking films there, I have not commented very much. I only have around 30 comments after 18 months on the site (not counting comments to other users of the site), and for someone that likes to blab on about films as much as I do, that's an odd thing. It's probably because Flickchart comments are better suited to brevity, which is something that I don't normally like to approach in my own time. I save that for work.

Some of my comments on Flickchart have essentially been entire essays, such as the type I used to post on here in days past before I was systematically calculating my own demise due to an unbearable recent depression. In a dual effort to pique my interest in writing personally again and to maintain a healthy presence on that site, I have determined a single, firm ground rule be applied to my next round of Flickchart posts and beyond. The ruling shall stand that I may use no more than 250 words -- TOPS -- on any comment where two films are pitted against each other. Personal posts on the site are different, but for the bread and butter of Flickchart -- that of the film vs. film ranking battle -- I must heed this rule.

And now, since the intent of The Cinema 4 Pylon this month is to serve as a Halloween Countdown destination (and I apologize for not being as committed to the cause as I was last year, when I posted every day in October), I will use Flickchart's Genre ranking tool to have several alien invasion films climb into the ring and go at it, uh, film-o y film-o...

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) vs. War of the Worlds (2005)
This one was an easy decision right off the bat. These titles are from two of my favorite books, but only one book also stands as the progenitor of two of my favorite movies. Snatchers has been made twice into one of my favorite movies, as I also love the 1978 Philip Kaufman version with Donald Sutherland, and especially because it takes the same basic concept (that of the loss of identity to emotionless alien interlopers) and also makes it into a satire of the then burgeoning New Age trendiness. It the original Don Siegel version, however, that rules my universe, not least because it has Dana Wynter in it as my all-time favorite damsel-in-distress. I zeroed in on the film as a teenager after growing hearing about the film from my parents, and it hasn't failed to break my heart since, even if I am tired of the discussion about the film's true political intentions. An interesting discussion, yes, but after a while, I just want to watch it again to be scared to death. H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds also has a version in my list of favorite films, the 1953 original by George Pal, but Spielberg's 2005 re-do is only marginally successful, though it has much visual appeal. I really should give it another look one of these days.

Predator 2 (1990) vs. Not of This Earth (1988)
I am not a fan of either one of these films, but I can still make a pretty easy choice on this match-up. Predator 2 was no match for its original (though that film's appeal has definitely worn off on me since its original release, when I was excited to see it initially), but the second iteration is still a pretty worthwhile monster movie. Some good urban warfare, and I liked Danny Glover just fine in the role as the cop hero. An interesting assemblage of actors as well: Blades, Paxton, Alonso, and Busey the elder. I couldn't wait for Not of This Earth to come out on video in 1988 as we were still in that era when there was great interest vested in our part (my boys and I) in seeing Traci Lords' cans... and legally as well. To this date, I have still not seen the 1957 Roger Corman original (odd for me, yes, but it is now out on DVD and I will have my copy in mere days), so I cannot compare the two yet, but I remember being both mildly amused by the intentionally mega-cheap remake and rather bored at the same time. In the end, the scenery was nice but too brief, and by this point, I no longer care about that scenery. I will take Predator 2 for being an actual film, not just a publicity stunt.

The Creeping Terror (1964) vs. V: The Final Battle (1984)
OK, I will admit a massive fondness for the ridiculously terrible The Creeping Terror, a film so low-budget that they had to hire a newsman to read narration over most of the film because of the poor sound quality of the dialogue throughout (though there is actually still a lot of contention over why this occurred). A monstrous shag carpet-laden space creature with a downed spaceship, dines on various citizens of a small town, and eventually attacks a dance hall and swallows teenagers whole (and spits out their shoes)... oh, it is just so anti-awesome. Watch the MST3K version if you do, if only to keep you awake, but the regular film is a wacky, crappy time on its own. I loved the original mini-series V when it was first on television, and I stuck with it through its run in the mid-'80s, if only to chiefly ogle Faye Grant and Jane Badler. (Honestly, I lost the plot early on in the regular series.) Regardless, I have rewatched the two original minis (of which this was second) in the last few years, and still had a pretty good time. Not so with the newer remake series. I am flashing V for Victory... 

Body Snatchers (1994) vs. The Faculty (1998)
Abel Ferrera directed the third official screen version of Jack Finney's seminal science fiction novel, and the story still holds up well in its relocation to an army base. Third in my heart, though, after the first two, but this effort is still rather creepy and the special effects are pretty well done. I was really excited for The Faculty from Robert Rodriguez and Kevin Williamson when it came out. In a slightly different sense, it is also a "body-snatching" film -- this time, teachers are taken over by alien parasites -- but the results are decidedly mixed. The cast is fun, especially the teachers, and it is more than a tad hammy in presentation. Seeing it recently, it is a serviceable enough sci-fi thriller, but no more than that. It seems to have been lost in the Rodriguez oeuvre, though there are other films on that list (Sharkboy or Spy Kids 3, anyone?) that deserve relegation far more. I am snatching "Body" on this one...

Returner (2002) vs. The Mysterians (1957)
Twin Japanese alien invasion films, but only one really connected with me. Returner, while fun for portions of its run, was far too much of a hodgepodge of just about every science fiction film that ever came down the pike, and I just grew weary of its dodging anything genuinely original in order to get to its underwhelming finish. Cute stars, though... The Mysterians, on the other hand, crosses over into that treasured kaiju era of the late '50s and early '60s, and I crossed paths with this and the rest of its Toho ilk as a teen. Moguera, the crazy-looking, pointy-nosed mecha controlled by the Mysterians, is a particular favorite of mine (its supposed to represent a giant robotic mole). It doesn't have a star nose like my favorite moles, but it gets the gold star out of this pairing. As candy-colored silly as it looks, it's The Mysterians for me.

The Twonky (1953) vs. The War of the Worlds (1953)
Arch Oboler's The Twonky is one of those films that seems, as you are viewing it, that you are lost in the course of a particularly devious but playful fever dream. (I resist describing things as "an acid trip," first because it is stupid, and secondly, because I have never been on one.) When I first saw it years ago on a UHF channel, it was in the middle of the night, and I actually was barely conscious due to illness. I kept images of a walking, manipulative but loyal television set tormenting poor Hans Conried in my head for ages, always wondering "what the hell the name of that movie was?" I would tell people about it and they would think I was crazy. I have seen it a couple of times recently, and while I treasure having the film in my knowledge, it is almost best remembered as that very fever dream. No matter my joy over The Twonky, it can't compare for my long-standing adoration of George Pal's still scary version of H.G. Wells' sci-fi classic. Many of the scenes still define screen science-fiction for me, despite years of directors trying to outdo it. It's not just sight, but the sound of the film, that live in my memory. If you don't know what I mean, then you haven't seen it.

Village of the Damned (1995) vs. Monsters (2010)
John Carpenter pulled off a remake (The Thing) that was equal to (and sometimes better) than the original over a decade before he tried to do the same thing to one of the creepiest films of the 1960s, Wolf Rilla's The Village of the Damned. All those eerily staring, blond-haired kids... I can't even think about it. And yet, this time, Carpenter really dropped the ball to such an extent, that I think it really affected the way that I viewed him. Everything is off in this film, and all even five minutes of this version does is remind me of exactly why I grow nauseous when I hear the word "remake." Hollywood has "Clockwork Oranged" me into turning fearful every time they decide to savage the culture of previous generations. Which is why I cling ferociously to a film like Monsters, which, despite a couple of missteps, is still one of the more original visions I have seen in several years. All the film did is make me want to know more, at every portion of the journey, and I was able to shake off the "Blair Witch"-style shooting of the film, which by this point has been done to death. But as long as the occasional good comes out of the style, then I guess that I will just have to learn to accept it.

It Conquered the World (1956) vs. Without Warning (1980)
This one comes down to choice of monsters. Do I go with what is widely considered to be one of the worst examples of an alien costume in Corman's It Conquered the World (which I genuinely enjoy as a goofy '50s sci-fi film despite this) or with the deadly alien Frisbee things with tentacles and teeth that devour their victims throughout Greydon Clark's neglected Without Warning? I saw this film for the first time on cable television at a friend's house late one night. Then I had to walk home about two miles alongside a forest that never seemed quite that creepy until after I watched these evil alien Frisbee things fling about and kill people. Without Warning was shot with the proper amount of spooky menace by Dean Cundey, who lensed Halloween just before this film and then broke through to the big leagues. The makeup effects by Greg Cannom, who would also go on to bigger things, are pretty nifty as well. Man, I want both of these films on DVD, but between the two, Without Warning is my choice.


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